By AUSTIN COLBERT
The Hays High School girls' basketball team lost to Pratt High School 57-42 on Tuesday at the HHS gym. What the final score doesn't show is how close the game really was and how many missed opportunities the Indians had against the No. 4-ranked team in Class 4A Division II, a team that beat the Indians 70-29 last season in Pratt.
"They shot 90 percent in the first half from the free-throw line and we shot 50 percent," HHS coach Kirk Maska said. "I thought if we would have shot a little better from the free-throw line the game would have been even closer and they might have played a little tighter in the second half."
Hays High (1-3) was plagued by turnovers and made only 14 of 27 from the foul line, while Pratt (2-0) made 11 of 13 and fed off the Indians' lapses to pull away in the fourth quarter.
Pratt never trailed in the game, but Hays High did enough to keep it close through three quarters. The Greenbacks led 16-12 after a quarter, their largest lead of the first half coming at 26-17 with about three minutes to play. Fouls mounted for Pratt. Hays High attempted eight free throws over the span of about 90 seconds -- going just 4 of 8 -- to cut the deficit to five points before a pair of made free throws by Pratt gave the Greenbacks a 28-21 halftime lead.
"They definitely have five or six girls that handle the ball really well and you can tell they've played together," Maska said. "I wasn't really disappointed. We have trouble running our stuff. Just don't handle the ball very well and as we get better we are going to be a little more competitive and be there at the end."
A quick basket by junior Haley George to open the second half -- Hays High's first field goal in more than five minutes -- brought the Indians within 28-23, but HHS would settle for only free throws the remainder of the quarter and trailed 40-28 heading into the fourth.
After Pratt opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer to take its largest lead of the game to that point at 43-28, Hays High put together its most impressive run, scoring five straight and had momentum down just 10 with more than five minutes to play.
"We are getting better. We are hustling. We are competing," Maska said. "I thought we played pretty well in the half-court defense. They just beat us back time and time again for easy layups throwing over the top. That was kind of disappointing because hustle is not talent. It's just heart. We got to find more of it."
Momentum quickly swung back the way of the Greenbacks when they were able to haul in back-to-back offensive rebounds and finished the possession with a 3-pointer to go up 46-33 with 5:24 to play, a moment Maska thought "was a big turning point. It kind of got out of our hands then."
Sophomore guard Talyn Kleweno provided a spark for the Indians late, scoring seven points over the final four minutes, but a 10-2 Pratt run late put the game out of reach.
Senior Ashlyn Parrish led HHS with a career-high 10 points, Kleweno's eight next best. Pratt received 17 points from senior Paige Bailey and 15 from Destani Garten.
The Indians will head to Colby High School on Thursday for their first road game. HHS defeated Colby 44-40 on Friday in the consolation bracket of the Hays City Shootout, a win that snapped a 23-game losing streak for the Indians.
"I think our mindset will be good because we have beaten them. So they know it's a team we can beat," Maska said of Colby. "It's going to be a lot tougher on the road than at a neutral site. I don't know how often they practice in that gym, so it might not be a great advantage. But it's something we are looking forward to. If we can be 2-3 playing Junction City (Dec. 16) at home that's a lot better than 1-4."
Start time for Thursday's game in Colby is expected to be around 6:30 p.m. following the junior varsity games.
Pratt 57, Hays High 42
Pratt 16 12 12 17 -- 57
HHS 12 9 7 14 -- 42
Pratt -- Paige Bailey 17, Destani Garten 15, Becker 8, Smith-Potter 7, Flemming 5, Hook 3, Batman 2
HHS -- Ashlyn Parrish 10, Kleweno 8, Schmeidler 7, George 6, Schlaefli 4, Dinkel 4, Smith 2, Keller 1